I’ve produced over 10 productions that feature short plays written and directed by women. So, I was intrigued by 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks and excited to learn more about the 5 playwrights (all women) who joined forces to produce this show.
Graduates of the USC Master of Professional Writing Program, the 5 Sirens are: Sarah Dzida (Don’t Panic), Autumn McAlpin (Ten Years Left), Kiera Nowacki (Spock at Bat), Caron Tate (Whatever Works) and Laurel Wetzork (Out of Here). They realized that by pooling their resources and sharing in the production responsibilities they had the skills to tackle everything from advertising and publicity to fundraising (check out their super-successful Indiegogo campaign) and contracts on their own.
5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks features 5 10-minute plays centered around theme of miscommunication and longing for connection. What’s wonderful about the production is that the audience is treated to five distinctly different styles and approaches to the theme.
Director Laura Steinroeder had previously worked with Laurel Wetzork and came on board to direct the five plays. Wetzork says, “she was very brave to take on five different, very strong women and make this show work.” Though directed by one person, Steinroeder allows each piece to live in its own world, so that the audience can experience the progression of a debilitating disease through a rhythmic pattern in one play (Ten Years Left) and move seamlessly into the next play about the inter-species communication between intelligent and not-so-intelligent life (Out of Here).
What I find most inspiring about 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks is that these five women, a group as diverse as can be, banded together as a community to support each other and produce their own work. Now, they are confident that they can produce a Fringe show on their own, individually. I’m certain that whatever productions they do in the future, 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks will be an experience that proves to be both unforgettable and invaluable. Through June 27th at Theatre Asylum.
The Hollywood Fringe Festival is a fringe-purist’s dream where content is queen and storytellers work their spreadsheets to self-produce their show.
The first play I produced for Green Light Productions was for the 2003 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. It was a two-person show about the tumultuous and creative relationship between Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald called Boats Against the Current. From rehearsals in living rooms, costumes from Goodwill and one-hour techs to packed houses and standing ovations, I learned how to create magic on a shoestring budget by putting the story first.
This year there are over 20 one-woman shows in the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
At the last LAFPI meeting at Samuel French I was treated to a preview ofSnack by Megan Dolan. In the hysterically funny world of Snack, Dolan traces the roots of her smoothie addiction back to her childhood, posing the question “How do you parent yourself and your kids at the same time?” Snack runs until 6/27 at Theatre Asylum.
This weekend I saw Jennifer Bobiwash’s Indians in a Box: There’s No “I” in NDNwhere Bobiwash sets out on a journey to discover what it truly means to be a modern American Indian. Through the laughs of Bobiwash’s story, we begin to understand the many complexities of her identity and how it’s shaped her life. NDN runs until 6/17 at Lounge Theatre.
There is an electric energy during the fringe, as artists become Olympians and audiences become active participants in the creation of these raw, intimate, now-or-never productions. Check out the “one woman show” tab on the HFF site where you’ll find an amazing group of storytellers who are the true heart and soul of this year’s fringe.
I started Green Light Productions in 2003 to create new opportunities for women in theatre. As of 2008, Green Light has exclusively produced plays written and directed by women.
This year, Green Light completed The Shubert Report to examine the 349 theatres that received $16.4 million in grants last year from the nation’s largest private funder of the performing arts. We found that only 26% of the plays being produced were written by women and that 125 of those 349 theatres weren’t producing ANY plays written by women. Foundations, especially those as large as The Shubert Foundation, play a huge role in sustaining American Theatre – most of which is classified as nonprofit. Imagine the impact it’d have if they required applicants to produce seasons that had 50% female writers and directors? Imagine the impact if just one major theatre a year decided to do a season of plays by women. Just that one step…
In 2005, I took that step. Heather Jones sent me her one-act play “Last Rites” about a life-long friendship between two women. It’s a beautiful play and I walked around with Heather’s script in my bag for month thinking about how it could be produced. I had the idea to create a festival of one-act plays all written and directed by women: GLO, Green Light One-Acts. And since the first GLO in, we’ve given world premieres to 15 one-act plays with productions in Philadelphia, New York and now Los Angeles.
In GLO 2014 we introduce to the world 4 new plays written by female playwrights based in Los Angeles – Allie Costa, Jennie Webb, Julianne Homokay and myself – with directors Liz Hinlein, Jen Bloom, Ricka Fisher and Katherine James. I have met the most incredible women just working on this first Green Light show here and I am so excited to plan our next steps here in LA.
Getting here wasn’t easy. While I’ve had the absolute pleasure to work with hundreds of women who support our mission, over the years I heard a surprising amount of negative feedback – much of it from women who felt that the theatre didn’t need companies like Green Light. A female journalist actually responded to one of my press releases with “Do we really need this?”
Yes, we do. And we need YOU!
I hope that by forming new collaborations, asking lots questions, challenging those who need to be challenged and producing work by women, Green Light will continue to have a valuable impact on artists and audiences. And I hope you’ll be part of it.
Mark Your Calendars: November 6-9, GLO 2014, 4 plays written and directed by LA women artists at Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. www.greenlightproductions.org.
Be part of Green Light Productions first foray into the LA theater scene (after mixing it up in NY and Philly). Join the FB Invite here (LA FPI tix for only $10!). This femme-fest is Green Light Production’s annual event, but the company is looking for more women artists moving forward. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact [email protected].
A stirring doubleheader of RADAR L.A. productions last night at LATC gave me a lot to think about, including this: I am left wondering if it was coincidence, curators’ choice, or larger cultural influences that gave Los Angeles an international theater and performance festival at which only two plays (of 14 scripted pieces, many involving female artists) were written by women; both women are Latin American; both of their plays look at generational trauma in the aftermath of defining tragedies in their countries; both temper their documentary materials with poetic license as they explore the intimately personal in the political. Whatever. I can thank the forces – occult or otherwise – that brought Mariana Villegas and Lola Arias to town.
For Villegas, in her supertitled 55-minute solo performance Se Rompen Las Olas, the disaster is the Mexico City earthquake of 1985 – evoked through video news clips – that left tens of thousands dead, discredited the government, and briefly brought together the woman who would be her mother and the man whose absence and abandonment would shake the performer’s life to the core. Villegas holds the stage with a powerfully expressive physicality as when her exuberant and uninhibited dance shifts in an instant to a vision of abuse. At one point, a recorded song asks Where did the earthquake catch you? and goes on to answer dancing with Catalina, shaking the floor so hard, the singer explains, he never noticed the quake. (Can anyone imagine a comparable song in this country citing 9/11?) In Se Rompen Las Olas, these lyrics with their upbeat tune and danceable beat offer a compelling truth of daily life and human desire going on in the midst of catastrophe while Villegas, through her body and her words reminds us that people born in the aftermath of disaster continue to feel the reverberation in their lives.
For Lola Arias, the disaster is the coup in Chile that overthrew the government of Salvador Allende and led to the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The supertitled script of El Año en que Nací (The Year I Was Born) is drawn from the actual lives of the 11 performers all of whom were born (or were infants) at the time of the coup and who seek to understand the roles their parents played during years of repression, violence, prison, and exile. Notably, the performers come from families all across the political spectrum from participants in the armed struggle on the left to the authoritarian paramilitary organization on the right along with those who had political preferences but tried to go along with the status quo. While the opening scenes of the play suggest the new generation’s commonalities, the picture becomes more complex and fractious (and comical) when the players are challenged to line up to show their political stance, their economic position – When it comes to poverty, does having a dirt floor at home trump going hungry? – and their social status as reflected in skin color. Simple yet inventive staging keeps the production lively with tonal shifts and surprise.
Arias, from Argentina, previously created a similar program exploring the post-dictatorship era in her own country and if you’re familiar with Latin American politics, her work shouldn’t be missed. Know nothing about Allende and Pinochet? The production still fascinates. It runs two hours without intermission without ever inducing fidgets.
Villegas and Arias made me think of another Latin American woman at the head of a company that uses documentary material – Claudia Santiago who writes, directs, and performs with Mexico City-based Espejo Mutable. Their most recent production, Náa-Gunaá, looks at the lives of indigenous migrants (including children) from the south of Mexico who are exposed to exploitation and pesticides as they harvest GMO crops in Baja California. The company would love the opportunity to share this work and explore the lives of indigenous migrants from Oaxaca in our own California fields.
And a quick shoutout to three additional RADAR L.A. offerings that have women at the helm if not in the playwright’s chair:
Franco-Austrian director Giselle Vienne chose to employ simple hand puppets to create the unnerving effect in Jerk, the story of a serial killer.
Theatre Movement Bazaar, with Tina Kronis as director and choreographer, continues its reinterpretation of Chekhov with Track 3.
Diane Lefer is a playwright, author, and activist whose collaboration with Hector Aristizábal, Nightwind, has been performed in LA and in 30 other countries around the globe. Also in LA, her work has been presented by Grupo Ta’Yer at the Frida Kahlo Theater, Indie Chi Productions, Playwrights Arena, Three Roses Players, and Triumvirate Pi. She is co-author with Aristizábal of The Blessing Next to the Wound: A story of art, activism, and transformation as well as several anthologized essays about Theater of the Oppressed, and she has worked with theater groups in Colombia and Bolivia. Her works of fiction include the historical novel, The Fiery Alphabet, published this month, and the short story collection, California Transit, which received the Mary McCarthy Prize. Visit www.dianelefer.weebly.com.
I am by nature an optimist. I love to laugh and I don’t hold on to grudges. I am sincerely hoping that is the key to my longevity and will compensate for the lack of physical exercise. But as a Playwright and theatrical Director and Producer, I have also had my rose colored glasses ripped off of my face a time or two. I try and see the glass as half full, rather than half empty. But imagine that glass as less than a quarter full. Imagine two equal sized water glasses, one that is 80% full and the second that is only 20% full. Stand them side-by-side and visually take in that image. That will give you a picture of gender parity in American theatre in 2013… or rather the lack thereof.
The Hollywood Fringe Festival is always a good jumping off point for discussions on gender parity in Los Angeles theatre. The number of female participants is usually inflated because of the self-production element, which in all honesty, self-production is something I would encourage any woman with the skills and means, to consider at any time of the year. DIY! That is what motivated my Cofounder Michele Weiss and I, to found The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project, in 2007. I’m a Playwright and I understand the challenges that we face and I wanted to find a way to help more women get their work on to the stage, though all too soon realized that our efforts were only a small step in addressing an overwhelming need.
A playwright tells a story based on their unique perspective, which really does differ between men and women. As female playwrights, of course we can create male characters. And no doubt male playwrights can create female characters. But we’re talking about one simple thing. Truth. I had a cherished mentor and writing instructor who taught me the word, verisimilitude,the appearance or semblance of truth; likelihood; probability. He used to say that it was essential that a play possessed verisimilitude.
There is a serious lack of verisimilitude in American theatre, when eighty percent of the plays that are produced are written by and about men. The absence of gender parity is a crisis and has not progressed in the past century; so waiting for it to catch up to the times is not going to happen on its own. Not only are women’s perspectives and voices denied, but also the trickle down effect of this discriminatory practice is insidious and seeps into the pours of how we produce theatre. The dysfunction is reflected in the lack of protagonist and leading roles for actresses. It is reflected in the low percentage of female directors, stage crew and it most certainly impacts the number of stories about women or even stories from a woman’s perspective. When the majority of critics who review plays are male, it slants the reporting, the reviews and even the amount of media coverage and awards that women receive.
Perhaps we’ve been indoctrinated that if we get on our feminist soapboxes and demand equality, we are just being downright rude. Theatre is not just entertainment, it is an ageless reflection of our communities, our culture and our lives. If that reflection has historically lacked gender parity and truth, do we simply acquiesce to the status quo? Or do we find the courage to undertake the mission of creating equality in the art that we value so greatly? As Producers of theatre, we can not be willing to sacrifice verisimilitude or to deny our right to expect it.
“I’m forming a new ad hoc committee in Los Angeles to explore fresh ways to solve the gender parity issue in theatre. Join me on July 20, 1-4 p.m., at the next LA FPI Gathering at Samuel French Bookshop, to learn the details and become part of it.”
I was taught that Jon Jory was a god in the world of playwriting. But I saw a lousy production of his adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” in Florida. And the actors and director cannot take all the blame.
Jory’s adaptation was way too literal – this happened, then this happened, then this happened. The theatricality was mostly absent, except for borrowing the technique used in “Nicholas Nickleby” where prose is put in the mouths of characters and shared with the audience breaking the fourth wall.
Now, I admit I’m a bit prejudiced myself on the topic of Jane Austen and “P&P.” I’ve seen the 1995 BBC adaptation at least two dozen times and the various movie versions several times apiece. But those were films. This was theatre – or at least it was supposed to be.
I’m no expert on adaptation – though I did win the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for my adaptation of Nikolai Gogol short stories for the Rogues Artists Ensemble – but I do have some thoughts. And I hope you’ll add to my list of what makes a good adaptation.
A work of theatre has to be theatrical. There has to be a place where the page is left to lie there to gather dust and something bigger than life comes alive in front of an audience. I don’t need Spiderman to fly across the stage (speaking of problems with adaptation) or a helicopter to land at the end of the second act. A play should be dangerous. And unpredictable. Use the stage.
Someone will be disappointed. It happens all the time in movie adaptations – something gets left out, characters get melded. A playwright has to face those expectations an audience brings into a familiar work and be brave enough to disappoint some people. Trying to please everyone creates bland work.
Jane Austen will not turn over in her grave. We all want to honor the original work. But why bother to do anything but retype the book in play format if you’re not willing to make it a bit of your own? It’s an adaptation, not a literal translation.
I work on Capitol Hill. It’s a day job much like the theatre – lots of colorful characters and drama. And mystery.
I’ve started collecting odd signs. This one keeps haunting me…it sounds like the title of a play. But I can’t imagine what it would be about.
So as I sign off this week, in the spirit of leaving you with homework, I offer this sign as the title of the play you’ll never get around to writing. Write a one paragraph synopsis – the annoying kind theatres keep demanding. And this is your title:
It’s so helpful to have someone else read your work.
I know that’s obvious, but I’m always surprised when I do share my plays with someone else. They see things in it that even I did not. And ask questions that either I’ve been avoiding or never thought of asking myself.
The challenging part is finding the right person and the right environment.
We’ve all been in situations where the feedback for the playwright was less than helpful. I attend lots of readings. (Yes, I know it’s a theatre’s excuse NOT to fully produce new work…) It’s helpful to me as a playwright to hear how someone else is tackling a problem and getting themselves out of it. Or not. And it’s easier for me to look objectively at THEIR work and see what needs to be done. I’m rarely shy about sharing what I think is a helpful observation.
But I cringe in a feedback session when an audience member gushes, “don’t change a thing!” Few plays don’t need a thing changed. That kind of feedback is almost worse than a critique.
The hard part is listening with an objective ear. And discarding most of what you’ve heard. Those few nuggets that ring true are the ones to hold on to.
But perhaps the most valuable third ear is that of a trusted dramaturg, director, or fellow playwright. Not too many of them. Too many voices can confuse and cause you to shut down completely. But find the ones you trust.
I miss my LA playwriting group, which was my group of third ears. I haven’t yet found a group here in DC. But my weekly Skype meetings with Omaha playwright Ellen Struve are my lifeline. She sees things I have missed and asks questions I hadn’t thought of. And she knows when to leave it alone until I can figure it out for myself.
Time and energy seem to be my biggest obstacles to writing these days. I have a day job where I’m writing a lot. And running all over town. And shocking though it may be to admit, I just don’t have as much energy as I used to.
I consume vast amounts of tea and chocolate to fuel my writing periods, but it’s just not enough. There aren’t enough hours in the day for work, exercise (ballet and swimming), opening the door for the cat, and kissing my husband. Oh, and many days I’d much rather be pursuing my other creative outlet: sewing. I can spend an entire weekend at my sewing machine and plan entire trips to various cities just to shop their fabric stores. (My last trip to NYC was split between seeing theatre and seeing the Balenciaga exhibit and the costume exhibit at Lincoln Center.)
I’m trying to take the long view. I’ve written ten plays over two decades. I don’t have to do it all in 2011. I am entitled to just sit around and be a vegetable sometimes. I don’t have to write everyday.
But that’s the rub, isn’t it? On days when I don’t write, I’m not as nice a person to those around me. Growl.
Guess I’ll summon the energy to write a few lines.